On Saturday 22 February, I was fortunate to attend a new production of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. I was joined my sister-in-law, who states the story as her favourite novel ever. It was the first sit-down theatre performance I had seen since I watched Arthur Miller’s View From The Bridge at the same venue last July. That show had featured an Italian immigrant, Marco, played by Jose Tarouca. I enjoyed the Miller play and was very impressed by the acting, lighting and direction. I was not familiar with the story beforehand, so was following the events unfold for the first time. I did not feel in any position to write a review, and only shared my thoughts about it with some friends that had watched it with me, including Dan from The Common Lot.
I am more familiar, however, with Wuthering Heights; not just from what I know of the original book, nor the well-known debut single by Kate Bush, which is a family favourite, but also from an ITV production starring Tom Hardy and his real-life wife, Charlotte Riley, in the two main roles. I thought the casting for this new production of a 1995 stage version written Jo Clifford was spot on. Tarouca is back, this time as lead protagonist, Heathcliff, playing opposite Christina Clarke as Catherine ‘Cathy’ Earnshaw (later Linton). Their performances were incredibly powerful, even more so when I discovered that rehearsals only begun at the start of the year. Furthermore, they were ably supported by Miles Lukoszevieze as the abusive, controlling master-to-be, Hindley, Jake Harrison as the refined Edgar Linton and the pivotal role of housemaid, Nelly Dean, played superbly by Michelle Campbell-Jones, seemingly the only one with any sense left by the end. The whole thing was directed with great touches by Sabrina Poole. Despite being a difficult play to stage, it worked amazingly well. Time passes fairly quickly and cracks on at a rattling pace, with no let up. You can hear an interview with Sabrina and two of the cast members here.
“The Norwich Players present Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, adapted by Jo Clifford by arrangement with Alan Brodie Representation. Performances from Friday 21 – Saturday 29 February. Photographs by Sean Owen of Reflective Arts. Through the windows of a gloomy house two children stare longingly into the night awaiting the return of their father from the city. He will bring something home: a boy. His name will be Heathcliff and his arrival will spark a passionate story of obsessive love and violent revenge. For some he will prove to be a gift from God, for others a curse from the Devil.” – Promo text from the Maddermarket Theatre.
It wasn’t just the outstanding, heart-wrenching performances on show, but the magnificent staging. The balcony is used to represent moving from location to location, such as going across the infamous Yorkshire moors, while the windows and doors show us things happening simultaneously and in dreams. Talking of ‘dreams’, an acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s song is used to echo the stormy backdrop – an idea of ‘thunder only happening when it’s raining’. Coincidentally, the UK had been battered by storms (called Ciara and Dennis) in the run up to opening night. Sound is important. Unloved babies crying, echoes and ghosts run through this Gothic classic. Halfway through, we hear a loud heartbeat, which turns into Placebo’s slowed down version of Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Now, Bush has never, to my knowledge, stated that song was a sequel to her debut no.1 hit, and is more concerned with two people swapping places and making ‘a deal with God’. The way it was used here, though, suggested that it could have been. The ‘hill’ might have represented the climb up the moors to the eponymous house of the title and, at one point, pregnant Cathy’s desperation to see Heathcliff again.
From my point-of-view, this was an emotional roller-coaster, aided by knowing the general plot, although the focus was not on the bumbling narrator, Lockwood, nor the concluding years of the next generation, but only the central, toxic relationships. As I stated, it is a favourite story of my sister-in-law, while my mother and brother both studied it when they simultaneously completed their English GCSE at City College, Norwich, in the early 1990s. I also happen to be huge fan of Kate Bush’s music and the original version of her debut song played out during the ‘curtain call’.
This is what my sister-in-law wrote on the feedback slips, as well as some other comments shared on the theatre’s own Instagram stories:
My only tiny issue was just a minor point of casting. David Paston expertly delivered a weary, god-fearing Mr Earnshaw at the beginning of the play, but doubled up as Edgar Linton’s father, with a simple addition of a wig, later on. We had seen Mr Earnshaw die, as the script demanded. So it temporarily seemed a bit confusing to some in the audience. Completing the cast were Keila Isaacson-Gray as Hindley’s fragile wife, Frances, Ashden Woodrow as Linton’s wayward sibling, Isabella and a comedic turn by Kevin Oelrichs as the straight talking and heavy drinking, Dr Kenneth.
It goes down as one of the most powerful theatre performances that I have ever experienced. My initial short review was shared on Twitter and pinned by the theatre.
The play runs until Saturday 29 February. Highly recommended. Not to be missed.